Books: Too True

SCUMBLER by William Wharton Knopf; 256 pages; $14.95

"Always distrust professed honesty," says Scumbler, an aging, defiantly bohemian American painter in Paris. "It's the ultimate con job." This seems an odd assertion from a character whose narrative is one long profession of emotional candor, sensitivity, creativity and individuality. William Wharton's novel is no con job, however, but something perhaps harder to take: a credo of total, devout and sometimes excruciating sincerity.

Scumbler's name is borrowed from the technical term for texturing over one color with another; usually he shortens it to Scum, for scum of the earth. A self-proclaimed people's painter, he...

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